City of Houston layoffs began last Thursday and will continue over the next few weeks.
Mayor Annise Parker says these decisions are painful and personal.
“Hoping that we wouldn’t get to this day where we had to lay off employees that we wanted to keep for services that we wanted to continue to provide. It certainly keeps me awake at night. And my budget, as mayor, has been cut as much as any other department. I’m not going to give them a severe cut and not do it to myself.”
In fact, the mayor says one of the early terminations last year during department consolidation was a close personal friend for 30 years. Parker says employees are notified of their termination face to face and the city is offering support services and career counseling.
“And as revenues become available, many of these employees would be eligible for rehire. These are good people doing good work. It’s a matter of adjusting our spend to the income.”
The administration is required to submit a balanced budget, so Parker is still looking for creative ways to close the $75 million budget gap.
“We’re continuing to sell property and those will be in the budget. We are evaluating all of our special revenue funds to see if there is money sitting unused that can come back to the general fund. And we’re also looking at some, perhaps, privatization of city services that may help the city budget.”
Parker says she’s not ready to reveal which services could be privatized. She also says she holds to her pledge not to raise the property tax rate and remains committed to a budget that maintains public safety jobs.
“My police department and my fire department were given budget targets that reach into personnel. And I’m aware of that and they are working hard to make adjustments in how they do business to meet those targets. But unless I find new revenue, they can’t meet it without getting to personnel so we’re looking for innovative solutions to preserve our classified personnel.”
The mayor’s proposed budget is due before council in two weeks — at which time councilmembers will be able to review her plan and offer their own amendments.
The new budget goes into effect on July 1st.